Era of democratizing information sharing raises ethical questions

December 13, 2014

Yesterday I was having a chinwag with technology historian who took me down memory lane since early 70s to late 2000s.In his opinion, the world is are entering “third generation” era of information technology. That means at the moment we have a computing platform that engages more and more people with technologies that are increasingly more widely available. New IT era is uniting key trends, including the social media, mobility and cloud storage. According to the historian who hails from Surrey in United Kingdom, the “first generation” served the finest with mainframe computers and the second mainly PCs were occupied by early adopters and youngsters, while the current one has ushered in the democratic age of information technology in his own description.The statistics leave little room for doubt as a new era has dawned. International Data Corp forecasts that spending on information technology in Thailand will grow by 10.6 per cent to Bt439 billion this year, driven by four markets – smartphones, IT services, package software and storage. The top spenders for the current generation of technology are banks, telecommunications firms and manufacturers. And that’s no surprise if you may ask me. These three have to spend big to keep up with the competition, or else be trampled underfoot. I am also tempted to slot in the electronic media in this category.While new technologies empower us ordinary people, they also endanger corporations in competition for customers. Over the past few years, I have witnessed the downfall or narrow escape of telecommunications giants that should have known better. Banks are competing not only on interest rates, but also on the conveniences they can offer their customers.

As for the manufacturers, one IT miscalculation can be enough to put them out of business.The IT market has sped up the evolution of the laws on demand and supply. On the one hand, it’s no longer what people want that sells, but what people are made to think they want. The constant cascade of upgrades, updates and new products leaves millions of us thinking we constantly need to buy new gadgets.On the other hand, IT manufacturers can’t stand still either. Rivals and copycats are forever poised and ready to take advantage. It’s getting harder and harder to balance social responsibility and business interests. When it comes to the availability of technologies, there’s greater “democracy”. The evidence is all over with likes of smartphones lighting up the poorest estate corners and interrupt the hush of the slum temples. But will the arrival of the new democratic “generation of technology” help spread the wealth more evenly? In other words, how much wealth will flow from the platform owners to the platform users?Whether this new digital age is a genuine social success or a failure hangs on the answer to that question. So far, we can only judge by the profits and losses of those at the highest echelons of information technology in the western world. The so called analysts have placed too much importance on how innovations will generate profits, and too little on.A new generation of platform should make life easier both social as well as economic.

Contador Harrison